Granite Island Penguins face extinction if management practices are not improved

The island mystery of the missing penguins

The little penguin colony on one South Australian island is struggling to survive.

Statistics say the population has dwindled to just 20 from more than 1500 back in 2001.

Chair of 'Save Granite Island Penguins' and former City of Victor Harbor Mayor Graham Philp has been proactive in finding a solution to the demise of the South Australian penguin colony.

"The aim is to find out if human interaction and recreational use has impacted the colonies of penguins that inhabit Granite Island," Mr Philp said.

"The island has lost a large amount of penguin population over time. According to the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife (2020), the current population is approximately 20 penguins, but in 2001 there was approximately 1548 penguins on the island.

"It is extremely sad to see a native animal's population decrease more and more every year.

"With a high volume of people filtering through, the penguins may avoid the area potentially limiting their access to food, shelter, and other resources. The penguins may also come across rubbish and try to eat it."

'Save the Granite Island Penguins' chair Graham Philp is concerned on the future on the species.

'Save the Granite Island Penguins' chair Graham Philp is concerned on the future on the species.

Over fishing can significantly reduce the amount of food the Penguins have access to, once again potentially being a factor that drives the Penguins away from Granite Island.

At the start of 2020, on Granite Island, five penguins were found dead. A trail camera caught two foxes inside one of the penguin's burrows. This shows that foxes are still on the island and actively hunting the penguins.

In 1994, a fox used the bridge to travel to Granite Island and ended up killing 54 penguins.

"This is why it is so important for the council to work with the managers of the island the Department of Environment and Water to erect gate to keep the foxes and dogs from crossing to the island over the Causeway," Mr Philp said.

"The penguins had been killed and kicked around by cruel humans that disposed of them in the water as well."

'Save Granite Island Penguins' Facebook community group is about spreading awareness and receiving donations. Donations are important to this group as all the money raised will go towards assisting scientists in understanding how different threats are impacting different Little Penguin populations.

The plans to rebuild the Causeway for easier access to Granite Island concerns Mr Philp, as the the project which will cost more than $31 million will cover two breeding seasons for the penguins.

"The bridge being built could disrupt the penguin's habitat and lifestyle, which could lead to them not breeding in their normal cycle, or not breeding at all," he said.

"The building of the new and updated causeway will have a high chance of making the penguins extinct.

"Penguins need privacy to breed and if they are disturbed by humans for two years as well as big machines and noisy construction work, they will find it really hard to breed.

"The information that I have is that the drilling of new pylons into the seabed will have a dramatic effect on the penguins that are left."

Mr Philp said the Little Penguin colony was a very important part of South Australia due to it being the only place you can find them.

"The penguins are a big part of Granite Island and is one of the reasons people go there. If the penguins are wiped out, it would be very sad for South Australia to lose a species to extinction," he said.

"There should be other plans and ideas to prevent the causeway from being built and disturbing the penguins or be postponed until they breed enough to have some sort of sustainability. Extinction could be prevented if better management strategies are put in place to minimise the negative impacts by recreational users and help build a sustainable future for the Little Penguins."

This story The island mystery of the missing penguins first appeared on The Times.